Self-care isn’t just a buzzword but a dedicated set of actions that can help you support your health and find your happy place. When you suffer from a chronic medical condition, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), life is tough and it’s even more important to make time to boost your wellbeing.
We know that 40-60% of people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome also suffer from anxiety and depression (1), and that our brain-gut access responds to stress which can trigger symptoms. This means anything that can have a positive impact on mental health as well as our overall well-being, could also help us manage unpleasant gut symptoms. The trick is making sure that self-care doesn’t feel like a chore when you are already tired and emotionally strung out. Let’s look at 5 tips for creating a self-care routine that lasts.
5 Tips for Creating a Self-Care Routine that Lasts
1. Focus on things you love to do
When you think of self-care you might think of yoga, green smoothies, and quinoa, but if drinking a kale smoothie and eating a budda bowl filled with quinoa isn’t your idea of fun, then these self-care activities won’t last!
Self care activities don’t need to feel alternative, or hipster, or even trendy. And they definitely shouldn’t feel forced. It’s about focusing on activities that make your heart feel full.
My goal when creating my self-care routine is to think about what makes me feel like the best version of me? What makes me feel peaceful? Feel whole? Feel energised?
Then I look at how I can fit these routines into my everyday life. It’s often best to select activities that take short amounts of time, about 10 to 15 minutes, as these are easier to fit into busy schedules.
Here are some activities I love:
- Short walk (alone or with a friend)
- Short restorative yoga session (yoga can help reduce IBS symptoms (2), and there are lots of routine options on Youtube)
- Few minutes of mindfulness or meditation (we enjoyed using Headspace)
- Journaling, colouring or drawing
- Relaxing to music
- Playing an instrument
- Reading a book
- Beauty routine (massage, eyebrow shape, facial, manicure – whatever makes you feel good)
- Quick coffee with a friend
- Sit in the sunshine and watch the world go by
If you need more ideas, check out this roundup.
2. Create a sleep routine.
Self-care routines should also look at basic activies that also protect your health. You might not realise it, but sleep is the most essential one.
The American Sleep Association says that “Adults who get less than seven or eight hours’ sleep can experience mental and physical health deficits.” Not enough sleep can result in sleep deprivation which can affect your mental health, ability to heal and impair brain function (3).
Create a regular bedtime and wake up time to help you get a good night’s sleep. Also look at reducing screen time, exercise, alcohol, and caffeine before bed. Another good idea is to write your to-do list and your worries down a couple of hours before bed so you can let those stresses go. Then turn your devices off when you jump into bed.
3. Let go of your worries and be present in the moment
I know this is easier said than done as I am an expert worrier. This is a problem as my worries often hijack the moment. I’m so busy fretting about what’s happening at work, or how I’m going to manage my gut symptoms, that I miss out on enjoying the experience and connecting with my friends.
Something that might help is practicing mindfulness.
Being mindful is simply noticing when you have a thought that is unrelated to the experience and letting it go (kinda like watching a car go past). This practice can teach you how to focus on the activity you are working on without fretting about your to-do list or what might happen next.
I find that I am terrible at practising mindfulness by myself, instead I use Headspace which is a mindfulness app that gives me daily reminders and quick 10 minute mindfulness sessions.
4. Get Rid Of The Too Busy Trap
It took me a long time to break the mental mindset that I was too busy to look after myself. The first step was acknowledging that I only have to find a few minutes each day to focus on self care activities. I recommend you start by carving out 10 -20 minutes in the morning before the hustle and bustle of your day begins.
Don’t sabotage yourself by turning on your phone and diving straight into Facebook notifications and emails, instead take a few minutes to do something that makes you feel good. Enjoy your coffee in the sunshine, go for a quick walk, do some wake up stretches.
Weekends are another time you can capitalise on self care. If you get time off over the weekend then be intentional about that time. When you’re unwell it’s easy to spend all your spare time staying in bed and watching Netflix. However, this could have a negative impact on your mental health, I know I actually feel better if I do something outside of watching Netflix, even if I’m feeling poorly.
My suggestion is to plan four things you could do in your free time that empowers you to feel good. Then plan out time to make them happen, so you can balance social interactions with self-care activities.
5. Find an accountability friend
We are all guilty of skimping on the self care! I know putting yourself first can be tough when you’re unwell and also have a family and work counting on you. Just remember that one of the best ways to support yourself and your loved ones is to look after you.
Are you ready to take control of your gut symptoms?
No thanks, my gut is perfect.
I’m competitive by nature so I’ve found finding a friend who also needs to implement a self-care routine and having a check in buddy system works best for me. Plus I don’t like buying the other person coffee if they beat me at our joint self care goals. So find an accountability friend and start making some positive changes to your routine.
Bonus Tip: Feed Your Food Soul
One of the things that makes me feel the best is nourishing my body with good food. I believe that food should be both tasty and nutritious and that you don’t have to compromise. Each week I carve out some time to make myself a meal plan that is stacked with fresh fruit and veggies, tasty meals and the occasional treat! If you are struggling to create a feel-good meal plan while on the low FODMAP diet, then make sure you check out our meal plan tools in our FODMAP Made Easy programme.
Self-care routines are all about creating a better version of you and don’t need to feel like a chore. Focus on activities that make your heart feel full and create space in your day to do something you enjoy. This can help boost your mental health and wellbeing as well as make it easier to cope with a chronic medical condition like IBS.